Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Breadcrumbs, Pancetta, and Pepitas

October  3, 2010
15 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 8 cups of pasta
Author Notes

Putting a few breadcrumbs in a pasta dish is a common Italian trick that adds the right counterpoint of texture, taste and color to a simple sauce. Here I’ve paired them with some peppery fall cauliflower and salty pancetta. Owing to the current shortage of pine nuts, I’ve substituted unsalted pepitos – hulled pumpkin seeds – which are more abundant (that is, cheaper), and add both nutty flavor and a shade of green to this otherwise very pale dish. - cheese1227 —cheese1227

Test Kitchen Notes

This lovely simple pasta incorporates different textures and balances flavors nicely. The lightly sautéed cauliflower just starts to get crispy edges. A touch of toasty breadcrumbs and lemon juice goes a long way. - Stephanie —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, broken into bite sized pieces
  • 1 pound of orecchiette (if unavailable use conchiglie or cavatelli)
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup of good olive oil
  • 3 thick slices of pancetta, cut into small dice.
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. When it gets to a boil, drop the cauliflower in and blanch for about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  2. In a large, non stick skillet, dry toast first the bread crumbs until they are browned and then the pepitas until they start to pop. Set both ingredients aside.
  3. Drop the pasta into the water to cook until al dente.
  4. Put the oil in the skillet and fry the bacon pieces until crispy. Add the cauliflower and chopped garlic to the skillet and sauté for about 2 minutes.
  5. Drain pasta (reserving a quarter cup of the pasta water). Add pasta to skillet with 1/4 cup of pasta water. Add lemon juice, pecorino cheese, and parsley and mix well. Adjust for salt and pepper.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in bread crumbs and pepitas.
  7. Serve warm.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Marie Berdini
    Marie Berdini
  • juliunruly
  • FoodieDawn
  • thebreukelenlife
  • Midge
I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.

18 Reviews

Marie B. February 21, 2021
Holy moly! So so good!! Will definitely add this to our rotation for the cold months. I didn't have bread to make fresh bread crumbs, so I toasted ~1/3 c premade. I also used nearly 1/2 c of pasta water to keep it moist and a bit more olive oil. A touch of extra cheese and just a bit of lemon zest on top, and viola!
vivian October 23, 2017
Followed this recipe exactly and didn't care for it at all. It was dry and bland. Probably needed some additional liquid of some sort, but my husband commented that it was hard to get all the components in one bite. I added arugula at the last minute, and that was the only thing he liked. Sorry, not a keeper recipe for us.
Laura L. October 28, 2015
Loved this! I used roasted cauliflower instead, which gave a rich flavor and pine nuts, rather than pepitas. It was devoured by everyone!
Marie B. February 21, 2021
That was a good tip. I blanched the cauliflower first, then roasted it a bit and think that added nice depth.
Michelle November 3, 2014
I made this tonight - I skipped the breadcrumbs, added a shallot with the garlic, and 1/4 cup cream with the pasta. I also used pine nuts. I found this dish to have a lot of potential, but the amount of grease from the pancetta was staggering - I disposed of half (approx 1/3 of a cup) and there were still several TBS left in the pan. I am glad I only used 1/2 of the EVOO. I will make this again, but next time, I will put the pancetta in a dry skillet, drain it, add the EVOO, and then add 1/4 cup white wine with the garlic and shallots. I am grateful for the recipe because it did get me to mix up my limited pasta repertoire in order to try this new combination. Thanks!
cheese1227 November 3, 2014
Wow, that was some fatty pancetta!
juliunruly March 2, 2014
Loved this. Used pine nuts instead of pepitas because I am a pignolia piglet.
FoodieDawn February 17, 2014
Where are the 5 ways to make it better?
FoodieDawn February 17, 2014
Oops I get it.
thebreukelenlife November 28, 2010
Delicious as is but in a winterizing effort I added some cream before adding in the breadcrumbs. Amazing!
cheese1227 November 28, 2010
Is "winterizing" code for -- I can eat more fat with my pasta because the whole tunic/legging/long black boots can hide it well? Too funny. I will have to try adding the cream as I just bought three new tunics!
thebreukelenlife November 28, 2010
You got it!
Midge October 8, 2010
Sounds delicious. Love the pepitos idea.
healthierkitchen October 4, 2010
Yum! Love cauliflower with pasta. I have a supply of pine nut in the freezer but I'm hinking to try the pepitas regardless.
AntoniaJames October 4, 2010
Great recipe! Love this. Especially the pepitos. ;o)
cheese1227 October 4, 2010
Thanks AntoniaJames. I have to admit that the pepitos were a late substitution made when I was tweaking this recipe for a cooking class I was giving to a bunch of starving students. There was no way they were going to pay $22/pound for pinenuts!
Lizthechef October 3, 2010
Thumbs up - your recipe is incredibly solid and delicious!
cheese1227 October 4, 2010
Thanks Lizthechef! It's one of my fall favorites.